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Environmental considerations widen to include community

14 November 2011 No Comment

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Last year we were all still talking about the environment. Now, although the environment remains dominant, the new word on the block seems to be ‘ecology’!

For example, my attention was recently drawn to the term ‘ecotoxicology’ when a Malvern customer reported a successful study; ‘Zetasizer Nano used to accurately characterize nanoparticles in ecotoxicology study’.

This work encouraged me to consider the distinctions between environment and ecology. I had to ask myself, how are environmental toxicology and ecotoxicology different?

A wider ecological perspective

According to Wikipedia, Environmental toxicology examines the harmful effects of chemical, biological and physical agents on individual living organisms whereas ecotoxicology is concerned with the effects of external stressors on the entire biological organization from the molecular to whole ecosystems.

This is a pretty clear, and significant distinction. Consider for a moment; by focusing on the wider ecological perspective, we might learn not only how to respond to the effects of harmful substances in an individual but also be presented with potential ways to understand, manage and gain better control over the initial cause of harm.

Methods of discovery

Like Associate Professor James F. Ranville, from the Department of Chemistry and Geochemistry at the Colorado School of Mines, I too believe that we require new methods of discovery in order to have a robust means to assess the impact of such things as nanoparticles. But rather than focus simply on the potential effects of nanoparticles, new measurement systems might benefit most if they aim to supply data to support a better understanding of the behaviour of nanoparticles in response to, and as part of, the ecosystem as a whole.

What do you think?